Backlash From Gun Industry Lobby Groups Prompts Nation’s Largest Billboard Company to Withdraw From Public Information Campaign Promoting Gun Rights and Effective Gun Safety Laws
New Billboards Were to be Interim Replacement for Iconic Mass Pike Message
BOSTON, MA – New billboards created by Stop Handgun Violence and designed to stimulate a rational discussion about responsible gun safety laws instead prompted a national backlash from the gun industry, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its Massachusetts affiliate, GOAL, causing the nation’s largest billboard company to withdraw from the public information campaign.
The gun lobby engaged in ruthless and relentless pressure tactics against Texas- based Clear Channel and its Boston based investor Bain Capital, flooding its corporate headquarters with phone calls and emails and threatening to launch a nationwide boycott on advertising on Clear Channel billboards and radio stations.
“The special interest gun industry believes the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, but the First Amendment is meaningless,” said John Rosenthal, co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence. “The gun industry is more interested in selling guns and protecting the rights of kids, criminals and mentally ill people to buy guns undetected than the lives of the innocent people who ultimately become their victims. Congress, which has been equally intimidated into submission, stands by while we lose 83 Americans every day to gun violence.”
Rosenthal, who has been a gun owner his whole adult life, added: “We thank Clear Channel in Boston for having the guts and the heart to participate in this public service campaign. But Clear Channel’s corporate headquarters in Texas has different priorities, and withered under pressure from the extreme gun lobby and its industry backers.”
The new billboards carried the message: “We’re Not Anti-Gun. We’re Pro-Life. Massachusetts Gun Laws Save Lives.” They featured a Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle (used at Sandy Hook Elementary School and by the DC sniper) with a white flag hanging out of the barrel. They also carried the Twitter hashtag #GunLawsWork.
(They will continue to be displayed on several billboards provided by other locally- owned billboard companies.)
“The gun lobby doesn’t want a rational discourse on responsible and effective gun laws,” Rosenthal said. “In fact, it wants to stifle any discussion at all about gun safety laws. It wants to control how we think about guns, how we speak about guns, and how we debate the issue of guns, and it is ready to engage in terror and intimidation campaigns to destroy free speech and continue to allow unrestricted access to deadly weapons without background checks at all costs.”
Rosenthal continued: “Our message said simply: ‘We’re Not Anti-Gun. We’re Pro- Life’ and used the image of a white flag to signal that we forged a truce with the NRA’s Massachusetts chapter, GOAL, last year with the passage of a new gun law that they supported. But with Congress and many state politicians on both sides of the political aisle cowering to the special interest gun industry and the NRA’s dangerous and self serving policies, it is clear that threats and intimidation are far more effective than rational discussion.”
Stop Handgun Violence designed the new billboards to replace the iconic sign that has hung along the Massachusetts Pike near Fenway Park for the past 20 years. Under an agreement with the buyer of the Lansdowne Street Garage, the billboard must come down after April 1, 2015. Several billboard companies agreed to donate three dozen billboards, which began appearing this week on major highways around the state including Boston, Worcester, Lawrence, Peabody, Medford and Fall River.
With the support of Mayor Marty Walsh, a new permanent billboard will be prominently displayed on Rosenthal’s Fenway Center development, which is being built on air rights over the Massachusetts Turnpike near Kenmore Square. The Center is expected to be completed in 2018.
Rosenthal said Stop Handgun Violence has never advocated for banning all guns other than military style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, which are the common denominator in most mass shootings. Rather, the organization has focused on reducing gun violence by enacting responsible gun laws to make it harder for kids, criminals, the mentally ill and other prohibited people from easily accessing firearms without detection by law enforcement.
Since 1994 when Stop Handgun Violence began its work and installed the first billboard, the number of gun deaths in Massachusetts has dropped 63%. Through public awareness and education, Stop Handgun Violence has helped Massachusetts become the national leader in gun violence prevention by enacting meaningful and effective legislation, including mandatory safety training and safe gun storage/child access prevention laws, renewable licensing (like driver’s licenses), expanded background checks for private gun sales, first-in-the-nation consumer protection standards for firearms sold in the state and a permanent ban on the sale of military style assault weapons and ammunition magazines with greater than ten rounds. As a result, urban industrial Massachusetts now has the lowest number of gun deaths per capita in the nation.
In the past, Stop Handgun Violence billboards have included provocative and at times irreverent messages about responsible gun ownership, gun trafficking, the NRA’s control of Congress and the real life consequences of gun violence.
A retrospective of the MassPike billboard campaign can be found here.